LNG Vessels Are an Obvious Terrorist Target - 01/23/2008
With the destructive power of a hydrogen bomb, LNG tankers can be easily hit from land or sea

An LNG tanker motors through Boston Harbor on its way to Everett, MA and an unloading facility for its liquid cargo.

Watch this video by an NBC affiliate for a quick course in LNG dynamics.

In an article published by the Christian Science Monitor by staff writer Mark Clayton, it said--

In the hours after the Sept. 11 attacks, Richard Clarke, then America's top counterterrorism official, rushed to get the US Coast Guard to close Boston Harbor. His main fear: Al Qaeda might attack a huge liquid natural gas tanker as it glided past downtown buildings.

LNG carrier being guided to terminal in Everett, MA., just 2 miles from Boston Common.

Mr. Clarke professes to know what few did: that Al Qaeda had used LNG tankers to smuggle agents into Boston from Algeria. He also knew that each ship held as much energy as a nuclear weapon. "Had one of the giant tankers blown up..., it would have wiped out downtown Boston," Clarke said in his book Against All Enemies. His assertions add a grave new concern to a push to triple the number of LNG terminals in North America. An explosion of just one bulbous tank on an LNG ship could produce a fire half a mile wide, experts say. Along a densely populated shoreline, they add, such an inferno could be disastrous.

Has the DHS got its eye on the right ball?

"If you locate LNG terminals close to residential areas, urban areas, they become a major terrorist target," says Gal Luft, director of the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security in Washington, an energy security policy think tank. "It's not just terminals, but the whole LNG infrastructure from tanker, to the terminal, to the truck."

An LNG carrier making its way through a densely populated city.

Clarke got the Coast Guard to close Boston Harbor temporarily. But LNG shipments resumed weeks later, even though Boston officials filed suit to ban LNG tankers from local waters. A federal judge ruled there was no evidence of a credible threat.

But those who oppose proposals to site LNG terminals onshore say they are not so sure. Opposition is growing, especially after an explosion at an LNG terminal in Algeria killed 22 and injured 74 in January. Last month proposals to build LNG terminals in Harpswell, Maine, and Humboldt Bay, Calif., were dropped after intense opposition from local residents. In Alabama, opposition by the governor, local officials, and activists may have squelched two proposed facilities near Mobile.

Look closely and you can actually see an LNG tanker tied up to the terminal (“A”). Note proximity to downtown Boston and Logan Airport, starting point of 9/11 terrorists.

30 New LNG terminals are in the works in the US

Today there are four LNG terminals in the US: Everett, MA, near Boston; Cove Point, MD; Elba Island, GA; and Lake Charles, LA. Because US supplies of natural gas are in short supply, more than 30 LNG terminals are under consideration, including some near densely populated areas like Fall River, MA, Long Beach, CA, Logan Township, NJ, and Providence, RI.

On October 20, 1944 an LNG tank leaked in Cleveland, Ohio and an explosion devastated a one-square mile area of the city.

79 homes, 2 factories and 217 cars were destroyed. 131 people were killed, 225 injured and 680 left homeless.


Energy analysts call LNG the "new prize" on the global energy scene. Japan and other energy-poor nations have long imported large amounts of LNG. The US expansion is part of a global boom, with at least 55 new LNG tankers under construction - a one-third increase in the world fleet to more than 200 vessels.

LNG Details

A nontoxic, highly compressed liquid, cooled to -260 degrees F., LNG is piped from tankers into giant storage tanks on shore. Then it is warmed, expanding to a gaseous state 600 times its previous volume, to be piped to power plants and homes.

The greatest risk from LNG, experts say, would be if the super-cold, compressed liquid were to gush out onto open water during a terrorist attack, spread, and then ignite.

"If even one of the five tanks onboard an LNG ship spilled onto the water, the fire it would produce would be up to a half-mile in diameter," says Jerry Havens, a chemical engineer and former director of the Chemical Hazards Research Center at the University of Arkansas. "The thermal radiation ... could burn people a half mile from the fire's edge," says Dr. Havens, who helped write federal standards for estimating the size and intensity of fires involving LNG.

James Fay, Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor emeritus of mechanical engineering, who some have called the father of LNG hazard theory, has conducted his own study of the consequences of a single tank release from an LNG tanker in Boston Harbor. His calculations of the size of the fire are nearly identical to Haven’s.

"One way to think about it is that, if all the fossil-fuel power plants in the US ran full power for five minutes, that's how much energy would burn in just five minutes here if one of those five tanks on one ship blew," he says. "It would be a lot bigger if the whole ship went up - about five times that big."


As public scrutiny of sitting proposals intensifies, the DOE and its regulatory arm, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), have moved to assert sole authority to approve new LNG facilities - whether or not state regulators or the public approve of them.

Last week, FERC rebuffed activists and California regulators who had argued that the state controlled siting of the proposed Long Beach LNG facility. California's Public Utilities Commission will appeal FERC's 17-page "declaratory order asserting exclusive jurisdiction."

Opponents say the Long Beach site would be just over a mile away from neighborhoods packed with 9,300 people per square mile and - at the heart of the nation's biggest port with about half of US imports flowing through it - a threat to the entire US economy if it were blown up.

Where is the Department of Homeland Security in all this?

“You Be the Judge”

Does all of this make sense? Is planting an LNG terminal in the middle of metro Boston a good idea? Should the DHS be involved with this issue? Let us know with an email… click here